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Does It Pay To Have A Cult Following?

Apparently. This interesting tidbit from a Q&A Michael Blanding did with Kristin Hersh, the lead singer of Throwing Muses (the band that, if you really wanted to be considered cool back in the 90s, you were supposed to say you liked more than the Breeders or Belly):

Blanding: With your Internet venture CASH Music (Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders), fan can "subscribe" to your music for a quarterly fee -- why distribute this way?

Hersh: I really wanted to give the music away, but I know it means the music will stop. The model I am using is one of community-supported agriculture or public radio. Downloading the music is still free, but people can buy subscriptions to support my recording fees.

Blanding: What do subscribers get out of it?

Hersh: Quite a lot. For $30 a quarter, they get advance copies of all of my CDs, exclusive live downloads, and guest privileges for any one of my shows. They also get what we are calling "the bat phone" -- which is really our office number, and they can call any time they want. For a one-time contribution of $500, they get to visit me in the studio while I am recording. For $1,000, they get listed on the album credits, and for $5,000, they get an executive producer credit.

On the one hand, I find it kind of depressing that someone would fork over $500 just to sit in on a Kristin Hersh recording session. (I don't know if I'd be willing to pay even $100 to watch my own cult obsession, Will Oldham, record; granted, if I did, Will would probably get all ornery and kick me out after a couple songs.) On the other hand, it's encouraging that an artist like Hersh can make a financial go of it by capitalizing on people who never outgrew the early '90s coming up with these sorts of innovative approaches.

I know there's been a lot of talk about the financial way forward for print media, but you wonder if some of Hersh's money-making ideas could be adapted by newspapers and the like. What if a subscription to your local paper also got you a once-a-year ticket to a Page One meeting? Or dinner with your favorite columnist? Sure, people would complain that this prostitutes the paper and corrupts the editorial process, but it's a lot less corrupting than other ideas out there (paying for article placement and the like) and these are desperate times.

--Jason Zengerle